What Causes Muscle Spasms In The Chest?

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A spasm is an involuntary contraction of a muscle, and it can occur anywhere in the body. However, when that spasm occurs in the chest, it’s cause for alarm.

Some conditions, like thyroid disease, anemia, diabetes, heart issues, and nervous system glitches can cause these uncomfortable spasms.

Though, anything that is chest related needs to be evaluated by a physician to make sure it’s not heart-related.

What Causes Muscle Spasms?

We’ve identified that many medical conditions can cause muscle spasms. The chest wall is full of muscles, just like the arms and legs.

The largest muscle and the one that brings the most concern is the heart. Spasms can also occur when a muscle is overused, injured, tired, or strained.

The goal is to identify what muscle is causing the problem and to determine why it’s reacting.

Here are the most common reasons for chest spasms:

Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder

According to the Mayo Clinic, Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disorder is a common condition where contents of the acids of the stomach back up into the esophagus.

Though some people call it heartburn, the acid in the mouth is only one of the side effects of this condition.

GERD can cause breathing problems, stomach pain, chest or esophageal spasms, bad breath, chest pain, vomiting, and even teeth erosion.

Left untreated, GERD can cause Barret’s Esophagus, which is a cancerous condition.

Certain people are at a higher risk of developing this illness, those include obesity, taking prescription medications, having a hiatal hernia, or women who are pregnant. Also, eating spicy or sugary foods can exacerbate the issue.

Coronary Artery Spasm

A temporary constriction of the chest muscles can be from angina. According to the American Heart Association, angina is caused when the wall of an artery, which carries blood to the heart, can narrow and decrease or cut off blood flow to this vital organ.

Typically, angina occurs when a person is physically active. However, a coronary artery spasm happens at rest.

The most common time for these to occur is from midnight through the early morning hours.

These spasms can occur more frequently in people with elevated risk factors. This includes people with hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

However, they can occur in individuals with no risk factors too. There are specific triggers to these spasms, which include the use of tobacco products, extreme emotional stress or taking illegal drugs.

Nitrates can help to relieve any chest pain as well as statin or beta-blocker medications.

Chest Muscle Spasms Causes

Pectoral Muscle Spasms

According to Dr. Ed Friedlander at Heath Tap pectoral muscles run from the chest wall through the arms, back, and shoulders.

Most commonly damage or strain to these muscles can cause increased discomfort. Along with that discomfort may come spasms.

Many people mistake pectoral spasms for a heart attack, primarily if they occur on the left side of the body.

The contraction can be quite intense as these muscles are strong and large. Most problems with these muscles resolve on their own.

However, if they continue to be troublesome, it’s worth having a doctor evaluate.

Conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia can cause widespread muscle problems, and any circumstances such as these should be ruled out.

Bronchial Spasm

A sudden or abnormal restriction of the muscles in the walls of the bronchioles causes a bronchial spasm.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, respiratory airways narrow making breathing difficult. Many things can cause this condition, including infection, allergies or chronic respiratory disease.

These spasms occur when the air passageways to the lungs become blocked or narrowed by muscle constrictions or inflammation.

These spasms come on quickly and are usually mild, but they can be severe in some patients. These symptoms include chest tightness, pain, wheezing, cough, or spasms.

Those at risk include people with lung disease, asthma, COPD, cancer, and other breathing issues.

Coronary Artery Disease

When plaque accumulates in the arteries, it causes a narrowing or restriction of blood flow. This condition is known as coronary artery disease.

Plaque is caused by cholesterol deposits that occur over time. When the blood flow is blocked, it’s called atherosclerosis.

Many people don’t know they have this disease until they have a heart attack. When searching for the cause of the myocardial infarction, many find that high cholesterol levels and plaque build-up are the culprits. Before a heart attack occurs, the artery will still try to send blood to the heart.

According to Dr. Neal Barnard from The Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, when the flow is slowed, and the heart is not getting enough, individuals will feel spasms or pains.

Consequently, an irregular heartbeat or an arrhythmia can also develop. Angina is the most common type of coronary artery disease.


According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety in this country.

Anxiety is a condition where the body goes into “fight or flight” mode more often than it should. This mechanism is built into the body to help prepare for danger.

However, a person suffering from anxiety cannot turn off the feeling of impending doom.

Stress can cause all sorts of problems, which include muscle spasms, feeling of numbness or tingling, panic attacks, dizziness, the fear of dying, and depression.

Anxiety symptoms are different for everyone. Some may feel like they have numbing sensations in their head and may fear a brain tumor, while others may have chest pains that make them think they are having a heart attack. However, anxiety and the chest discomfort they cause can be easily treated.

What To Do If You Have Chest Spasms?

As you can see, there are numerous causes of chest spasms and discomfort. It’s difficult to pinpoint what it is without medical intervention. Only a doctor can correctly diagnose what you are going through.

Many people just ignore these issues and feel they pulled a muscle. While that may be the case, it could also be something more serious.

Since the heart is in the chest, and it’s a muscle of the utmost importance, it’s worth having a medical evaluation completed.

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